State of the University address focuses on V2C2

Citing a “time of remarkable opportunity for our university,” President David Leebron introduced the seven strategic goals of the Vision for the Second Century, part two (V2C2) in his State of the University address to faculty Sept. 27 in Duncan Hall’s McMurtry Auditorium.

Introduced by Faculty Senate Speaker Jeff Fleisher, Leebron said the environment for higher education has “really changed dramatically since I came here in 2004” and is “more challenging than it has ever been.” But he said there is cohesion around the vision for Rice University. “That’s not to say we all have the same priorities, but I think it’s clear now what we aspire to be in terms of one of the great research universities,” he said.

President David Leebron speaking at the State of the University address in McMurty Auditorium.

President David Leebron presents his 2017 State of the University address in McMurtry Auditorium. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

The original V2C guided the university from 2005 to 2016 and resulted in such achievements as an expansion of the size and diversity of the student body, a more robust research profile, increased engagement with the city of Houston, more buildings on campus and higher visibility internationally.

Part two was developed in consultation with the Faculty Senate and with widespread campus conversations and an online survey that included input from deans, vice presidents, faculty, students, staff and alumni. It is focused on seven basic goals:

  • Transform undergraduate education.
  • Build internationally pre-eminent graduate and Ph.D. programs.
  • Expand access, diversity and inclusiveness.
  • Enhance research achievement and reputation.
  • Build faculty strategically to achieve pre-eminence.
  • Engage Houston as a model and laboratory for 21st-century cities.
  • Extend Rice’s reach and impact.

“What has distinguished this university in significant part is our dedication to the quality of the undergraduate experience,” Leebron said. “We cannot afford to lose that. What we’ve heard from both faculty and students was the need to focus on the increased engagement between faculty and students, to make sure that our faculty is an important factor in the lives of our students.

“At the same time, we must continue to build our graduate program. The graduate programs are in many ways what make us a university. We have to be more aggressive in identifying the best students and recruiting them. A lot of our graduate students say they choose Rice in part because they think they will have a better experience as a student.”

Leebron said Rice must effectively recruit and support students from low- and middle-income backgrounds and assure that these students have access to all Rice opportunities.

Doubling external research funding over the next 10 years and increasing and improving postdoctoral programs are among the objectives for enhancing Rice’s research achievements and reputation. Rice should also identify selected global challenges to which it could make a distinctive contribution through research.

To build faculty strategically, Rice needs to invest in faculty clusters and high-impact individual hires and position the university as a destination for global scholars and thought leaders.

Leebron said the goal of engaging Houston as an urban laboratory will allow Rice to address selected critical challenges. “We have an opportunity to really be seen as solvers of the city’s problems, as a go-to place for the city, engaged in a way that makes us a unique resource in terms of students who are looking for this kind of opportunity,” he said.

To build a bigger footprint, Rice needs to further develop its digital education and international relationships and deepen its engagement with alumni.

Leebron shared some of the ideas for major endeavors with broad institutional impact that emerged from the V2C2 discussions. Among them were engineering and medicine; materials; systems, both synthetic and physical biology; data science; disparities and inequities; cities of the future; global health; Earth, environment and energy; and social policy analysis. In addition, “Central Quad 4.0” entails renovations to Fondren Library and Rice Memorial Center and construction of an academic building with flexible, dynamic classrooms for collaborations.”

A capital campaign, increased revenues, reallocation of effort and resources, strategic organizational changes and new collaborations and partnerships will be needed to implement the V2C2. A draft of the vision, including the seven goals, 36 objectives and hundreds of action items, will be posted online. Faculty, staff, students and alumni will receive an email from Leebron with information on how to access the document, along with an invitation to provide feedback.

“You really need to read the whole document to get the flavor, the nuance and the vision of what we are setting out to achieve,” Leebron said.

Feedback on the draft will be solicited during October through an online survey and through November through conversations with all campus constituencies and alumni. The V2C2 document will then be revised so that a final version can be presented to the Rice Board of Trustees for discussion and approval in December or January.

Prior to the V2C2 presentation, Leebron reflected on Tropical Storm Harvey, which he said presented “a proud moment for the university and the city, where we demonstrated our qualities as a community.” Leebron said Rice fared well when measured against the criteria of “intelligence, competence and compassion” in handling the storm and recovery. He praised the Crisis Management Team led by Vice President for Administration Kevin Kirby, Provost Marie Lynn Miranda and Director of Institutional Crisis Management Jerusha Kasch. Leebron thanked the ride-out staff who made sure the students were safe and had food and water during and after the storm, and he commended the students, faculty and staff who volunteered to help victims of the storm through the Rice Harvey Action Team. He said it’s important to remember that some Rice community members’ homes were seriously damaged by floodwaters. The university also allocated $500,000 to set up Rice HERE (Houston Engagement and Recovery Effort) to support research-driven ideas that might help the city with its recovery initiatives and durability for the future. “I hope you will remain engaged and continue to contribute to the city,” Leebron said.

During his university updates, Leebron compared the 18,063 applications for undergraduate enrollment in 2017 with the 8,106 applications in 2004. The 9,816 out-of-state applications in 2017 outnumbered the total number of applications in 2004. The number of international applications grew from 416 in 2004 to 3,076 in 2017. “That’s a fairly dramatic change,” Leebron said. “We’ve become a much more national and international university.”

Other highlights from the university updates:

  • This year’s undergraduate class is the most diverse ever enrolled at Rice.
  • The entering freshman class had a significant increase in yield for engineering and natural sciences majors and for Asian-American, Mexican-American, other Hispanic, multiracial, citizens abroad and U.S. non-Texas students.
  • The number of doctoral degrees Rice conferred increased 46 percent from 2006 (147) to 2017 (215).
  • Undergraduates account for 57 percent of the 2017-2018 enrollment; graduate students account for the other 43 percent.
  • Enrollment in the professional master’s program has grown tenfold from 2005 (40 students) to 2017 (453 students).
  • The number of tenured and tenure-track faculty increased about 9 percent from 2004 (479) to 2017 (522).
  • About 24 percent of the faculty are not U.S. citizens; 30 percent of the faculty received at least their pregraduate education abroad. That is one major reason Rice remains concerned about the federal government’s travel bans and immigration policy.
  • Sponsored research revenues increased from $66.9 million in fiscal year 2004 to $130.2 million in fiscal year 2017.
  • The preliminary estimate for the value of Rice’s endowment as of June 30 is $5.8 billion – up from $5.3 billion in 2016.
  • Rice is among the few private universities in the Association of American Universities that have Moody’s AAA rating.
  • Capital projects that are underway include construction of the Music and Performing Arts Center, renovation of the Space Science and Technology Building, including construction of a new clean room, and utilities infrastructure and Reckling Park projects. Planning is underway for a Social Sciences building, a multicultural center, a discovery kitchen at the BioScience Research Collaborative and a mechanical lab.
  • The Cambridge office building will integrate staff who are currently housed in the Memorial Hermann and Greenbriar buildings and provide space on the first floor for student entrepreneurship activity. In addition to saving rent, this change will allow Rice to redevelop the Greenbriar property. The new parking garage adjacent to the Cambridge office building has 490 parking spaces.
  • New leaders at Rice include Yvonne Romero da Silva, vice president for enrollment; Reginald DesRoches, dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering; and Kathleen Canning, dean of humanities, who will join Rice in January.
  • New trustees are Terrence Gee ’86, Tommy Huie ’87 and Brian Patterson ’84.
  • Rice is ranked No. 14 nationally by both U.S. News & World Report and by the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education.

During a question-and-answer session, Leebron discussed the barriers that foreign students face coming to America and reaffirmed Rice’s “strong commitment” to DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students.


About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.